According to the current authorities in Montenegro, which advocate independent and internationally recognized Montenegro, Montenegrin nationals who live outside the borders of Montenegro, who haven't been registered as voters within Montenegro, do not have the right to vote in the independence referendum.
According to the opposition in Montenegro, which advocates a joint state of Montenegro and Serbia, all Montenegrin nationals, regardless of where they live and work, regardless of whether they have the status of residents of Montenegro, should be allowed to vote in the independence referendum.
Supporters of Montenegrin independence point out that everywhere in the world only residents, rather than nationals, make decisions about the fate of their state, and that Montenegro need not be different from the rest of the world in that respect. However, there have been cases elsewhere in the world that nationals, in addition to residents, voted about the fate of a state. For example, in the independence referendum held in Croatia some ten years ago, the right to vote was extended to all citizens of Croatia and was not limited to the residents. In that context, the turnout of Croatian nationals all over the world was notable.
The basic criterion for the division of Montenegrin nationals to those who have the right to vote about the independence of Montenegro and those who do not share that right is supposed to be their "links to the fate of Montenegro". Supposedly, one sort of Montenegrin nationals has tied its fate to that of Montenegro, while the other sort hasn't; one sort of nationals has been residing in Montenegro for at least two years, while the other hasn't. Consequently, their rights would have to be different.
What is the meaning of the "links" with the fate of Montenegro? How are those "links" established and measured? Who has the right, or who has been given the right, and based on what, to gauge the degree of "links" of individual Montenegrin nationals with the fate of Montenegro and to classify them according to that degree?
Montenegro dos not "belong" only to Montenegrin residents, but also to all the citizens of Montenegro, regardless of whether they do or do not reside within her borders. The rights obtained by Montenegrin nationals by the virtue of their birth on the territory of Montenegro, based on the rights inherited from their ancestors, based on ownership of land or other property in Montenegro ("sacred ownership rights") are inalienable. No one has the right, especially not "in the name of democracy and human rights" to deny those rights. It is wrong to put the rights of someone with a two-years-long residence in Montenegro above the rights of somebody else for whom Montenegro is an ancestral home.
Actually, the motivation for this attempt to deny Montenegrin nationals living outside Montenegro the right to vote in the independence referendum is the fear that most of them, especially those living in Serbia, will vote against independence. However, regardless of how justified or unjustified that fear may be, Montenegrin independence cannot be based on the denial of inalienable, natural and ancient rights of all Montenegrin nationals, or on the fear of their democratic rights and freedoms.
Consequently, all Montenegrin nationals, regardless of where they live or work, in Montenegro, Serbia or abroad, should be allowed to participate in the independence referendum. They should not be denied that right only because they have, due to objective reasons, temporarily or permanently established a home elsewhere, because they do not have legal residence in Montenegro. It is interesting that the Montenegrin nationals living in Serbia are in this context in a specific situation. If they obeyed the law, they were obliged to suspend their residence in Montenegro in favor of residence in Serbia. On the other hand those nationals living abroad did not have that obligation and have consequently been able to maintain their residence in Montenegro, even if they temporarily reside abroad.
The source of the dispute is in the understanding, attitude towards, and interpretation of state and civic issues, including inalienable rights of citizens, as well as in a pragmatic interplay of current political interests.
It would make sense that all adult citizens take part in the process of decision making about most important national issues of one country (for example, war or peace, statehood, changes of state borders, abandonment of or accession to a union and similar), because they are the authentic source of her statehood and sovereignty, regardless of where they reside.
Similarly, it also makes sense that only the residents of the state who enjoy the local voting rights take part in the process of decision-making about civic issues of a certain state (for example election of representatives in the parliament or the local authorities, local taxes, certain construction projects, route of a new road, organization of the government etc.), because they live within the state.
Civic and national issues are not the same. These are two different groups of issues. Consequently the voting rights regarding decision-making about one and the other set of issues should be different. The voters participating in a referendum about a local tax raised for the construction of local water-works cannot and should not be the same as the ones participating in the independence referendum.
In the given conditions, created after the establishment of a joint state of Serbia and Montenegro (FRY), it should not be a matter of dispute that citizens of Montenegro who reside in Serbia should participate in decision-making process regarding national-importance issues regarding Montenegro, as well as that citizens of Serbia, who reside in Montenegro, should participate in decision-making process regarding national-importance issues regarding Serbia. Similarly, it makes sense that Montenegrin nationals living in Serbia should vote regarding civic issues and for the local authorities in Serbia, just as Serbian nationals living in Montenegro, as the local residents, should have the right to participate in decisions made regarding the civic issues in Montenegro. This is not some sort of "double track" in the way Montenegrin and Serbian nationals enjoy their rights as some claim, but simply authentic expression of the democratic essence of their inalienable rights to freely decide about civic and national issues within the jurisdictions that are naturally theirs.
Therefore, the essence of the problem is not in the independence of Montenegro as such, but in the way in which we are supposed to reach the only generally acceptable democratic model that would equally respect democratic rights of all Montenegrin nationals in the expected independence referendum. Every usurpation of inalienable rights of any Montenegrin national is an undemocratic and uncivil act.
(The author is a diplomat and was until recently FRY ambassador in Brazil)